Lately I've been going around talking about the amount of energy it takes to teach. Something any and every teacher is well aware of. And I've started thinking back to a time when I was adjuncting, teaching five classes and working an additional job and taking a graduate class. (Apparently the teacher whom Freedom Writers is based on was paid 27,000/year and took two additional part time jobs). I keep thinking...wow, how did I do that? Right now the three classes I teach seem to take over my entire life. Five just seems overwhelming. However, I've always said that I'd love a community college job, and those tend to be a 5 - 5 load (sometimes more). When interviewing for them, I simply thought, I've done this before, and I was quite happy. But I was also something else: single. Not only was I single; I lived in the middle of nowhere (Newfane, VT with a population of under 1700) in a tiny (very rustic -- you could see the dirt from the ground between the slabs of wood that made my floor) cabin with no heating source except a wood stove. I had very few friends, and certainly fewer whom were easily accessible without all wheel drive. I worked out -- mostly by myself, but sometimes with the two friends who lived closest to me -- at a gym near one of the colleges where I taught. Yes, it seems I was living the life of a monk. And so teaching five classes simply was my whole life, and I quite enjoyed it. But life now is very different. I live in a city. I have two separate communities of friends. I have a partner, a house, a yard, a dog, heat that turns on by itself. I have a mall nearby. I play tennis, take spin classes, yoga classes, play Ultimate frisbee. (I'm beginning to sound like a bit of a yuppie). I meet up with friends at coffee shops, run into people I know at the movies. One person on the listserv said that one of the first things he learned in an education class is that a good teacher has a rich "outside" of school life. So it would seem that all of these things should be good for my teaching, and I'm sure that in many ways they are. But I haven't quite gotten the knack of having this rich outside life and not feeling overwhelmed by teaching. Part of me truly feels that my students should have a piece of my brain at all times: when I'm falling asleep at night; when I'm listening to D talk; when I'm out to a movie with friends -- during all of this I'm still brainstorming how to reach so-and-so, how I'll do such-and-such the same or differently, or I'm thinking about their blog entries; how I am going to respond to what they're thinking, etc. And even with the amount of energy I put into teaching, I'm still no Freedom Writer teacher; I'm still no Dead Poet's Society teacher. I'm just getting by, at the same time as I'm trying to do everything I can to ensure my students learn and succeed.
So I guess that ultimately my thought is that I have been convinced by these portrayals of the self-sacrificial teacher; that it really does take complete devotion to teaching and to the lives of students to be a "super"-teacher. How else to be a super-teacher? I read the listserv, and rationally I know the ways that these images and narratives are problematic. I know that the poster who wrote about having the rich outside life is probably right. But I'm still not fully convinced. A part of me continues to believe teachers need to take vows of celibacy, a vow of poverty, and forsake all that is not directly beneficial to their students.
Then I found this book and thought it might be helpful to read it. But then I read the customer reviews, which say things like:
Graduate students thinking about making careers as professors should read this book carefully, especially if they have or would like to have children. Each author in the edited volume describes her valiant attempt to have a family life and an academic job at the same time. It's not a pretty picture. The narratives are personal and powerful. Several are horror stories about the inhumane treatment of new professors who are also new mothers.
Although this book is most relevant as a cautionary tale for women entering academia, it is also a "must read" for anyone interested in the history of feminism. The memoirs of some of the senior female academics, pioneers in their fields, reveal awesome courage. This is the printed mentor that I've seen other books purport to be.
My one concern is that the book's bleak honesty may discourage some graduate students, or create the impression that it is better to wait until after tenure to start a family.
Horror stories? Courage necessary to a female academic? Discourage graduate students?